Plagiarism: The Far-Reaching Effects of Copied Content
Although plagiarism isn’t illegal, most of us know it’s (highly) unethical. (Thanks to Sara Hawkins, by the way, for the clarification regarding copyright law!) Yet many foolishly embrace this practice, even in an electronic age. Famous plagiarists include T.S. Eliot; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alex Haley; our own VP, Joe Biden; James Cameron; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Madonna; and sadly, the list continues.
I’m certain at some point we’ve all plagiarized content—either on purpose or by sheer coincidence. After all, the notion there are that many unique ideas does seem somewhat far-fetched.
I, myself, while an undergrad, would recycle term papers I wrote. I’d slap on a new title page and, ta-da! My History term paper was also my African-American Literature paper. I did it for two reasons: Sheer laziness and an “experiment” to unfortunately confirm that teachers who weren’t so fond of my snarkiness would grade my papers two grades lower than those who embraced a witty tongue.
Flash forward 20 years: I’ve learned my lesson. Others, however, have not.
A Startling Discovery
While doing research I came across a local “competitor’s” website, Impulse Creative. As I was just about to leave the site, I noticed a “website grader.” Hmmm, I thought. The only website grader I know of is HubSpot’s marketing grader. I clicked the link and there it was: “Try Our Free Website Grader.” Even says so in the URL.
Being the skeptic I am, I provided my email. I was also entered to win a $100 Adwords gift card, according to the instructions on the site: fill out the form to the right to get started and be entered to win. Somehow, though, methinks Impulse Creative doesn’t actually award that. Hello, FTC?
Moments later, I received an email from Remington Begg at Impulse Creative: click here to see your report. The link took me directly to HubSpot’s online marketing grader.
Hmm…weird, right? I went back to Impulse Creative’s website and reviewed the info. Their website clearly says, “Try (operative word) Our Free Website Grader.”
Gee, what else did he steal? I moseyed on over to their blog and there they were. Blog after blog after blog, all blatantly stolen. The blog’s author (and owner of Impulse Creative), Remington Begg, didn’t borrow bits and pieces of others work—he literally copied entire posts word for word.
Like this post Remington Begg wrote about 3 BIG Social Media Marketing Faux Pas.
He stole it from Mari Smith’s PDF titled The 12 Biggest Social Media Marketing Mistakes Businesses Make.
As Mari Smith has over 76,000 Facebook fans and co-hosts webinars with Apple’s former chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki, it’s beyond comical someone could think they’d get away with stealing her work.
I called Remington Begg out on Twitter. He backpedaled and thanked me (what the what?!) for pointing out the similarities and went so far as to @ tag Mari in the tweet.
Next up, Remington Begg wrote another post titled STOP! 15 Signs your Web Designer is NOT an Online Marketer.
He stole this content, word for word, from Hollis Thomases’ blog 23 Signs Your Web Developer Is Not an Online Marketer.
Hollis Thomases writes for…wait for it…Inc. magazine. Naturally, I alerted Hollis, who then called out Remington on Twitter.
While Remington never replied to Hollis’ tweet, he did edit his original blog—but it’s still blatantly plagiarized. After all, they both have the same title. Well, except that Hollis knows the difference between a web developer while Remington revised it to web designer, which is not the same function as a developer. Seriously, people?
I ran several more of his blog posts through Grammarly’s Plagiarism Grader (yes, there is such a thing). Every blog I entered was reported as plagiarized, including the small bio of their free Internet Marketing 101 Webinar.
There’s also Impulse Creative’s eBook, 5 Steps to Turn your Website in to a Marketing Gold Mine!
Nice cover, eh? Has the Impulse Creative logo. Gives the impression Impulse Creative wrote it. Only to open the book and discover it’s from…HubSpot.
The Implications of Plagiarism
There are also far-reaching results once plagiarized copy is published online.
I found Impulse Creative based on a Google search, which brought forth their plagiarized content. Fortunately, Google has measures in place to blacklist any site that’s stuffing key words or plagiarized content, but only if the content’s originator reports it.
What about web hosting? To ensure accuracy of online content, GoDaddy, among many other web hosts, will not host a site if it publishes plagiarized content.
Furthermore, plagiarism ruins reputations. Just ask three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post journalist Sari Horwitz. Horwitz plagiarized work from the Arizona Republic’s stories about Jared Lee Loughner, who was accused of shooting Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head
While I later learned Impulse Creative is a HubSpot reseller, one has to ask, is Impulse Creative’s serial plagiarism a wise brand extension for HubSpot? Could this one bad apple in HubSpot’s orchard ruin the whole crop? Do a stranger’s unethical business practices affect those around them?
One can look to the formerly prestigious Chicago-based accounting firm Arthur Andersen for precedence. After criminal charges were filed against Andersen for mismanaging Enron’s audit, Arthur Andersen went under in a screaming ball of flames. The result of unethical business practices at the top trickled down to everyone in the company. It was bad enough that Arthur Andersen’s employees lost their jobs, but they now face an uphill battle trying to prove themselves to prospective employers because of criminal wrongdoing by a few senior level folks at their former employer.
This is why Remington Begg’s blatant and serial plagiarism really chaps… my… hide.
His plagiarism has a trickle-down effect on me, as well as my other competitors. We now could all be seen as guilty of selling his snake oil, merely by being locals in the same industry. Consider the following scenario: “I’ve had two new clients in the last month that have been deceived by those before me. They sold me X. I received Y. I’m out thousands. Why should I hire you?”
Aside from being a morally and ethically bankrupt personal and professional practice, passing someone else’s content off as your own cheats not only your clients but also your industry.
As the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism states, “When you plagiarize, you violate two of the most important standards we uphold as journalists: honesty and accuracy.”
That sound advice isn’t just relevant in journalism—it’s an important guiding principle for all industries. And after all—isn’t it simply common sense to make sure your work is your own?